7. Don’t remind them of a death of a loved one or pet.

7. This is a deeper dive into the seventh item from my list of things to never say to a person diagnosed with dementia

Mom and Dad on their 60th wedding anniversary.

This one is a TOUGH and how it applies to your situation is a judgement call. Just thinking about the calls I would get from my mom asking me where dad was brings tears to my eyes. While the idea that a couple is living together with dementia sounds awful, I think it was comforting to both of my parents once they were in Assisted Living and had the right types of support around them to keep them safe. A few months after they moved in, they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.


Within the year, my dad was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on the back of his tongue. He died exactly one month after he was diagnosed. We were all numb at the choices and speed to which everything moved.

For weeks, mom would call me angry that I hadn’t told her when dad was coming back from the hospital. We believed that mom needed to have the opportunity to grieve and bury her husband of 60 years. How do you do that when someone has no short term memory?

I was thankful that we took a picture of all of us around dad after he had passed away. It is the saddest picture I have ever seen. I wasn’t really sure what struck us all to decide to have the hospice nurse take the photo. However, it allowed me to help give my mom a way to remember.

As a military veteran, dad’s burial was going to have to wait for months.  While I would never bring up the topic, when mom demanded that I take her to see him in the hospital, and no amount of redirecting worked, I would shift to talk about a fun memory of dad. I could offer the picture if she didn’t believe that we had all been bedside to say goodbye.

Some days mom fully remembered that dad was gone, on other’s she just didn’t understand how he was gone and it pained her that she didn’t remember any of it.

When my mom would ask about her sister who lived out of the area and passed away the same year, I would join her in wondering how she was doing. I didn’t feel she needed to know that her sister had passed away from her own health complications. However, when it came to where her spouse of 60 years was, I often ended up telling her that he had passed away if redirecting the topic wasn’t working. I would always try to include a good memory we could discuss instead of having to linger on the death.

I think this one boils down to the individual. It was easier to avoid any reminder of dad’s passing the further we got away from his death. After the funeral, we had a beautiful montage of pictures made up for the service that we hoped convey that we had honored him and all been together to celebrate his life.

Dementia sucks in so many ways. What I learned was that I needed to adapt to help my mom in any way that I could. Sometimes it meant delivering the news that dad had passed away, but most often, it mean shielding her from unpleasant details that none of us wanted to revisit. Empty.


5 thoughts on “7. Don’t remind them of a death of a loved one or pet.

  1. You are right, this is one of the toughest aspects of dealing with dementia, but I think it is helpful that you shared what worked and what didn’t work when communicating with your mother about the death of a loved one.

  2. This is probably the toughest I had to deal with. In my case it wasn’t the death of a spouse – dad’s wife walked out on him after 40 years of marriage. I couldn’t tell him his wife had left him and would say she’d gone to visit her sister – something which she did do so it wasn’t unusual. Dad knew I was not telling the truth but…
    With, pets, though, there wasn’t a problem. He enjoyed looking at pictures of the various dogs he’d owned – maybe because over a lifetime of owning dogs loss is inevitable. I don’t know. Anyway, we looked at pictures of dogs but not pictures of his wife.
    Part of me still wishes I’d said she’d died – might have been easier than knowing she’d abandoned him. As I am sure he did.

  3. It is such a difficult thing to deal with, and you’re right, it will be different for every individual. As with everything in dementia, the person comes first. There is no “one size fits all”. x x

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